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Simnuke: Having a Blast in the Nevada Desert

Over the past weekend, close to 100 people gathered in the remote Nevada desert 100 miles north of Reno to commemorate the world's first explosion of a nuclear weapon -- and have a party.

The event, dubbed Simnuke, was organized by peace activist Camron Assadi to serve as a reminder of the destructive power of nuclear weapons and the growing global proliferation of the technology to build them. It was also a good excuse to have a Burning Man-style gathering in desert of like-minded techno-geeks and activists.

How do you simulate a nuclear explosion? Begin with a mixture of gasoline and biodiesel, an organically based fuel commonly derived from spent oil from deep fat fryers. Liquid nitrogen pushes the fuel through a complex network of hoses hooked up to a semicircle of six giant fans, spread about 30 feet in diameter.

At just the right moment, the biodiesel-gasoline spray is ignited by a propane pilot light -- and you better stand back, way back...

Just as the sun began to creep over the hills, the desert came alive with a low-pitched boom, an intense rush of heat and a billowing column of orange flame. It was all over in just 18 seconds.

Did the significance of the moment sink in to the spectators? "If any of them got it, I'm happy," says Simnuke technician Argyre Patras.

The project continues with an art exhibition in San Francisco, and organizers will plant 60 trees in the wildfire-scorched hills near Los Alamos, N.M. -- one tree for each year since the Trinity test.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Xeni Jardin
Xeni Jardin can be heard on NPR’s Day to Day, offering technology insights for listeners nationwide. Jardin is also a contributing writer for Wired Magazine, as well as a tech culture journalist and co-editor of the collaborative weblog BoingBoing.net, the award-winning "Directory of Wonderful Things."